It has been almost a year since we re-started the final part of our ethical dairy farming system – leaving the calves with their mums while still milking them once-a-day. It would be safe to say that it has lived up to expectations, the best of times and the worst of times, but we’re making steady progress.
It all started well enough with the first calves born outside in fine settled weather. We were rocking! By the second week of November the grass was gone and weather cold and wet. We brought them all indoors. It was probably after a further 10 cows had calved that we noticed some of the calves suffering from diarrhoea and becoming de-hydrated. So began a two-month battle with a very nasty stomach bug called cryptosporidium.
With ten cows still to calve before Christmas on the vet’s advice we introduced a colostrum management system to ensure plenty of top quality colostrum – the cow’s first milk – got into the calf soon after birth. The cows duly calved and we followed the vet’s advice. None of those calves suffered the disease. As winter turned into spring we approached the next calving period in March with some apprehension. Would our new system work? With much relief, it did.
By this time the November calving cows had passed peak milk yield and were in slow decline but the calves were drinking ever greater amounts. By the end of month four we were getting about 5 litres and the calf was drinking 25!
During the fifth month after calving the calves were thriving after growing to around ¼ tonne in weight, so we increased the period of separation between mum and calf. The following night there was uproar, but thankfully it only lasted the day. The cows and their calves could still see each other and touch noses, but the calves were encouraged to move onto solid food. They quickly adapted to the new order of things without slowing their phenomenal rate of growth. We had milk again and our calves and cows remained happy and healthy.